We are actually the second planet-altering species. Three billion years ago, Cyanobacteria were the first. They totally changed this planet to one that is safe for oxygen breathers. That was a big change for species at the time, and most species didn’t make it. Nearly all of them went extinct.
If we’re lucky, we won’t change our environment as much as Cyanobacteria did. That’s the goal of the US Department of Energy ARPA-E. Inspired by the success of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; ARPA-E will fund high-risk, high-reward advances with the potential to completely change the way our species generates and consumes energy.
Arizona State’s Wim Vermass was of the 37 recipients of the DOE ARPA-E funding. He is teaching the ancient species to make our future fuel and to custom-make it just the way our species wants it.
Scientists at Arizona State University are trying to get Cyanobacteria to make our fuel in such a way that we don’t have to use any special solvents (or any energy at all) towards getting it out of them. And we don’t want them to leave such a mess behind when they die for us. So Wim Vermass is teaching them to secrete just what we need, and not die doing it.
“In the past, we had to ‘demolish the factory,’ basically break open the cyanobacteria, to get the product (lipids or fatty acids) out,” Vermaas explains. “This process will avoid that because the bacteria secrete the product.”
This avoids much of the environmental drawbacks to current cyanobacteria or algae conversion processes by not generating leftover biomass – or waste product – when the organisms are cracked open, and avoiding the use of solvents and additional energy normally needed to extract the lipids or fatty acids from the photosynthetic microbes.
Arizona State University: $5,205,706 grant to develop Cyanobacteria that produce and secrete fatty acids for biofuel feedstock using just sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide as inputs.
Direct Solar Fuels received 5 of the 37 awards.The other four are using their grants to work on:
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